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It’s a very simple idea: a woman receives a notebook with newspaper clippings from the Bintel Brief, a long-running letter column in turn of the century Yiddish newspaper The Forward. When she opens this notebook, the ghost of Abraham Cahan springs to life and they read the columns as they interact in the present. This is the charming premise of Liana Finck’s graphic novel A Bintel: Love and Longing in Old New York.

Finck adapts 11 letters-to-the-editor, using a different style based on the content of the letter. The illustrations vary wildly from blocky and dark to spacious and delicate. The tone of the book is lovely and heartfelt, perhaps because she is a character in the narrative. As she reads The Bintel Brief, she gets to know centuries of New York immigrant Jews and she gets to know Cahan himself. It can also be difficult to interest younger people in 100 year old advice columns when there is so much else to read, see, and do. Especially when that advice was written in a Yiddish newspaper! Finck breathes new life into these columns. Plenty of life was there before, but I’m not sure they had an audience.

Every story in the book actually appeared in The Forward. These are real problems real people wrote in about. They are all a bit sad, but not in an outright weepy way. People sought advice about missing husbands, thieving neighbors, and embarrassing spouses; but at the core they’re all very respectful and earnest. Many people were haunted by the ghosts of the old world, which never seems to be far from their minds. The letters are borne from the everyday hardships of immigrant life, which is sometimes quite bleak but at the same time poignant and hopeful. These letters can tell you as much about peoples’ lives at that time than any article about working conditions, poverty, or immigration ever could.

You can read some excerpts from the book on Liana Fink’s website. If you read this book and you want more (as I did), you can read the original columns in A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward, edited by Isaac Metzger (libraries have it, but you can also buy it). The Forward also still hosts a Bintel Brief advice blog online.

Cover image via Goodreads.


This is only my second post about paper.  I plan to post mostly about printmaking, drawing, and so such the like, but instead I am going to post about Manuel Munoz.  He is an author of two collections of short stories (Zigzagger and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue) and he recently spoke at Carleton for our Pride month.  He writes about the intersecting experiences of LGBT communities and latino communities.

I love short stories so much.  There is something about a good short story that cuts right through me.  I love reading them, but even more I love hearing author’s read their work.  Last summer I listened to a podcast where Miranda July read an excerpt from “Mon Plaisir” (part of her book No One Belongs Here More Than You).  I did some scouting and I think the podcast is part of the iTunes Meet the Author series.  The story is so beautiful, but hearing the author read, hearing her say the words like she hears them when she wrote them, it makes the experience magical.  And that was even listening to a podcast.  When Munoz read part of his story (he didn’t want to read all of it, for fear that we’d get bored), I cried.  It was so beautiful and moving.  His stories have such earnest portrayals of characters, especially ones that are split between the LGBT community and the latino community.  When he was trying to get his first book published, he had a lot of trouble because publishers couldn’t put it into one category or another.  Gay publishers weren’t sure if it would sell, latino publishers weren’t sure if it would sell, despite the fact that many of his stories had been published individually in big name periodicals.  When he spoke to us he talked about the period where he wanted to give up, but thank god he didn’t because he is so talented and his work is remarkable.  I highly recommend picking up Zigzagger of the Faith Healer of Olive Avenue.


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